EU corrects sugar aid figure

The European Union (EU) yesterday corrected figures it gave for support for the sugar industry over a seven-year period, saying it was $34.85 billion and not $348.5 billion as was “inadvertently” stated by its Ambassador, Jernej Videtič, last week.

“At the press conference held at the Delegation of the European Union on 29 June 2017, the figure of Euro 166,667,000 was given as the amount granted by the European Union in budget support to the sugar industry in Guyana between 2006 and 2013. While this is the correct figure, the corresponding amount in Guyana dollars was inadvertently given as GYD$348.5 billion, when it should have been approximately GYD$34.85 billion (depending on exchange rate used),” the EU Delegation said in a statement yesterday.

Therefore, it added, the amount allocated in budget support to sugar by the EU from 2006 to 2013 was €166.67 million, or GY$34.85 billion.

The Delegation of the Euro-pean Union said that it “sincerely regrets any confusion caused.”

The Ambassador’s slip caused a vigorous debate on the matter as the government called on the opposition People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C), which was in government for the period in question, to show how the massive  sum was spent.  Former PPP/C presidents Donald Ramotar and Bharrat Jagdeo both disputed the figures.

Jagdeo had issued a statement, through his attorney and former Attorney-General Anil Nandall, saying that he will address the issue in detail when he returns from New York later this week.

However, while seemingly trying to make a case for how the monies were spent, he said that over $30 billion went into the construction of the beleaguered Skeldon Sugar Factory.

“More than G$30B was spent by the PPP/C Administration on the Skeldon factory alone,” the statement said, while adding that a $5.4 billion payment that was made to the coalition government last year.

Indeed, no payments were made between 2013 and 2015, since the EU believed that Guyana did not meet agreed indicators. The payments were delayed since parliament was prorogued in 2014 by then President Ramotar. “The last payment under the sugar programme was delayed as it was put on hold because we were waiting for the eligibility criteria to be met, so this payment was executed in October, 2016,” the EU Ambassador said.

The EU has explained that its aid is channeled through different modalities, with budget support being one of them. It has two ongoing budget support programmes in Guyana.

The European Union envoy last Thursday explained that the last payment, under the sugar protocol, would be made in September of this year and after this there would be no more to be had. “There are no more funds from this protocol. This is it,” the EU Ambassador said when asked by Stabroek News if additional aid would be given to the sector.

Head of Co-operation at the EU Mission in Guyana, Christof Stuck, had explained in detail that the monies given are paid annually post factum, after checks that the past year’s indicators were met.

“There are targets each year, between January and December …so each time we come the following year and we check,” he explained.

The envoy made it clear that the grants given were not for policy design but merely the EU supporting the restructuring of the sugar sector here.

“In principle, all the money went for sugar sector reform…this programme was a functional support programme. So the funds went into the treasury of the government and then they would spend on a sector restructuring strategy that was agreed with the EU,” Stuck said as he pointed out that the EU has no role in the actual procuring of services.

The EU’s withholding of the grant aid from 2013 to 2015 left former president Ramotar disenchanted and he did not hold back in venting his feelings. The former president told Stabroek News that he  believed that the APNU+AFC government received monies that his government worked hard for as it toiled “earnestly” in ensuring that the EU indicators were met. He was annoyed that the monies were paid to the successor government and said he did not believe that the proroguing of the parliament was the reason the payments were delayed.

“I know that the €25M the PPP earned, he (the EU) gave it to this government all under the flimsy excuse that I had prorogued parliament. I do not believe that was the reason the payment was not given to us. We earned that money,” Ramotar said.

It was not the first time Ramotar had made his disquiet about the aid halt known as he had chalked it up to a conspiracy between the United Kingdom and the EU to deny the funds to Guyana.

The sugar industry here has taken a battering over the years even with billions in yearly bailouts. It is also carrying a huge debt.

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